FOR TEN weeks the trial in New York of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, a Mexican drug lord known as “El Chapo”, has revealed sordid tales of graft, girls and gore. If the jury believes them, the former head of the Sinaloa drug gang and the protagonist in a war that has killed 100,000 Mexicans faces a life sentence in an American jail.
Unless, of course, Mr Guzmán breaks out of prison for a third time. His second escape in 2015, from Mexico’s most secure jail, brought him global fame and prompted his extradition to America. A former minion explained to jurors how he did it. A GPS-equipped watch, smuggled in to Mr Guzmán, allowed accomplices a mile away to tunnel precisely to his cell.
Other witnesses described his opulent, paranoid lifestyle. Over the years Mr Guzmán allegedly reaped $14bn. He moved between hideouts every 20 days and between his wife and mistresses more rapidly still. Panthers and crocodiles prowled his private zoo. He spied on so many phones that a flunkey had to write him summaries. And then there were the murders that Mr Guzmán ordered or committed. “I said to him, ‘Why kill people?’,” a former friend told the court. “He answered: ‘Either your mum’s going to cry or his mum’s going to cry.’”
Insights into the drug trade abounded. When a police chief on Mr Guzmán’s payroll told him American radars were tracking his cocaine-filled planes, he began using boats. Foes were bribed, allegedly including Genaro García Luna, secretary of security for President Felipe Calderón, whose drug war in 2006-2012 disproportionately arrested the Sinaloa gang’s rivals. The most explosive tale came from a henchman who said he paid $100m to Enrique Peña Nieto, Mr Calderón’s successor, in exchange for leaving Mr Guzmán be. Mr Peña and Mr Garcia deny the allegations.
Mr Guzmán did not testify. The place he most wants to have his story told is not inside a courtroom. In 2007 he tried unsuccessfully to have a Hollywood film made about his life. A meeting with Sean Penn, an actor, which he hoped would yield a deal, led to his final capture in 2016. On January 28th, as the prosecution rested its case, an unlikely guest joined the audience in court. Alejandro Edda plays Mr Guzmán in “Narcos: Mexico”, a Netflix series released in November. When the on-screen El Chapo arrived, the real El Chapo’s face lit up with glee.